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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 February 2008, 12:02 GMT
Starlings blacken motorway skies
Starlings in the sky
The birds can swirl together in spectacular shapes
A plea has been made to drivers not to be distracted by flocks of starlings swooping in the sky above a motorway.

Police say motorists have been slowing down or stopping to watch the birds above the A74(M) north of Gretna Green and the A75 west of the town.

Tens of thousands of starlings turn the sky black as they dip through the air at dawn and dusk.

Police in Dumfries and Galloway said birdwatchers should pull off the road to watch the spectacular displays.

A police spokesman said: "Drivers should focus on the roadway rather than on the large groups of starlings up in the sky.

"People may be distracted from the road because of the birds, but the road is a dangerous environment.

"If they want to watch the birds they should pull off onto a side road or into a lay-by, because it is an offence to stop on the hard shoulder if it's not an emergency."

They are sociable birds and you see them in small flocks most of the year, and this sort of behaviour where they gather in huge flocks is what they do together in winter
RSPB spokesman

The RSPB said starling numbers had plunged by 65% over the last 30 years and they are on the red list of threatened species, making them of the highest conservation priority.

However, huge flocks of the birds are still seen regularly around the country in winter, as they join together at dusk to feed and roost.

They gather in large groups for safety and because they are sociable birds, with their numbers boosted by migrants at this time of year.

As night falls, they settle in copses or reed beds, with the large number of birds providing extra warmth on frosty nights.

Spectacular displays

An RSPB spokesman said: "They form these large flocks partly because they are sociable and partly because it is a defence mechanism, like fish forming shoals.

"If there's lots of them together it's harder for predators to pick them off."

He said the best time to see the birds was just before sunset and at dawn, when they were getting their last meal or first meal of the day.

He added: "They are sociable birds and you see them in small flocks most of the year, and this sort of behaviour where they gather in huge flocks is what they do together in winter."

The spectacular displays are not likely to last much longer this year, however, as the birds pair off to nest in early spring.

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